Amplifying the defence minister’s warning was the location where it was delivered: Lukung is just 40 kilometres from Finger 4, where Chinese and Indian soldiers clashed violently in early May and continue facing off.
Before his visit, Singh tweeted that he would be “visiting the forward areas to review the situation at the borders and also interact with the armed forces personnel deployed in the region.”
Singh is visiting at a time when there is limited progress on disengaging Indian and Chinese troops in three of the five areas where tension has run high after People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops crossed the traditional Line of Actual Control (LAC) that has existed since the ceasefire of 1962.
This follows a 14-hour meeting on Tuesday, in which senior Indian and Chinese military commanders discussed troop disengagement in the Galwan River valley (at Patrolling Point 14, or PP-14), the Hot Spring-Gogra sector (PP-15 and 17A) and the Pangong Tso (Finger 4).
The only sector where disengagement is complete is in the Galwan valley. As Business Standard reported on July 9, (Withdrawal from Galwan Valley puts Indian troops further from LAC) the terms of disengagement have shifted the LAC here by one kilometre into Indian territory, benefiting China. The traditional LAC, which ran along PP-14, now effectively runs through the Y-nullah junction.
There has also been some disengagement this week in the Hot Spring-Gogra areas. Near PP-15, many of the 1,000 PLA troops that had intruded 3-4 kilometres across the LAC have disengaged and withdrawn, leaving a smaller number about one kilometre inside Indian-claimed territory.
At PP-17A too, many of the 1,500 Chinese soldiers who had intruded across the LAC have now withdrawn, but several hundred remain a kilometre or so inside Indian-claimed territory.
In the Pangong Tso north bank, most of the Indian and Chinese soldiers who had confronted each other at Finger 4 have now disengaged. The Chinese have pulled back to Finger 5, while Indian soldiers have pulled back to the so-called Dhan Singh Post, which is located between Fingers 3 and 2. The Indians are now more than 10 kilometres from Finger 8, which they patrolled till April, and have vacated the Indo-Tibetan Border Police administrative base near Finger 3.
Meanwhile, some of the Chinese troops that had built bunkers in the Green Tops area – the commanding heights north of the Pangong Tso – are thinning out.
However, in the Depsang sector to the north, there is no disengagement from the positions the PLA intruded into, 16-18 kilometres on the Indian side of the LAC. In this sector, Indian troops can no longer reach five patrolling points on the LAC – PP 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13. The Chinese have flatly refused to discuss a pull back from Depsang in all four senior commanders’ meetings held so far.
Also unchanged is the heavy Chinese troop build-up on its side of the LAC. The army estimates there are 3,000-4,000 PLA soldiers across the LAC at Depsang, 3,000 opposite Galwan, 1,000 each opposite PP-15 and PP-17A, about 3,000 at Khurnak Fort, some 4,000 opposite the Pangong lake and another 4,000 opposite Demchok and Fukche. That adds up to about five PLA brigade groups.
Besides the pressure from the Indian troop build-up, military planners assess that the Chinese are now more open to disengaging and pulling back because they have succeeded in building a “no-man’s land” inside territory that had so far been under Indian control.
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